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Forget training wheels: This bike balances itself


Training wheels are great for getting kids rolling, but they don't really develop the balance required for real riding. Jyrobike takes a different approach to the learning process, providing a more authentic cycling experience while still offering the stability new starters need. That's because it's self-balancing, and though that sounds too good to be true, the technology that makes it possible is actually quite simple. Contained within the front wheel is a weighted, motor-driven disk that gets up to several thousand revolutions per minute (RPMs). This spinning disk, which emits a dull hum when at full speed, exerts a gyroscopic force that pushes against the turn and lean of the front wheel. As the rider tilts towards the point of no return, the front wheel corrects and as a result, nudges the child into a balanced body position. Watching someone ride a Jyrobike doesn't give you a good idea of how stable the thing really is, but we were incredibly impressed by a live demo. With just a small amount of forward momentum, the prototype easily shrugged off sideways slaps with only a slight waver.

Gallery: Jyrobike | 12 Photos

Jyrobike has three levels of stabilization, meaning you can gradually tone down how much help it's giving the rider as they progress (lower RPMs produce a lesser corrective effect). There's even an optional remote control parents can use to sneakily change the wheel's balance setting on the fly, if a child is struggling or needs challenging. If you don't have the remote, though, the Control Hub (aka front wheel) has buttons and LEDs for adjusting balance settings and displaying remaining charge. The wheel can also play bugle, siren and dinosaur sounds from its internal speaker to keep kids entertained while riding. A micro-USB port allows you to recharge the wheel (and update its firmware), which currently runs for around three hours per charge. When a child no longer needs aid, you can easily get into the Control Hub and remove the weighted disk so it becomes more or less a normal front wheel. Jyrobike isn't just about teaching, though, as it allows some children with prohibitive disabilities and disorders to cycle like everyone else.

If the idea of Jyrobike sounds familiar, it started as a college graduate project before several early prototype runs. Now, the team behind it is looking to raise $100,000 through Kickstarter to turn it into a fully fledged product. A pledge of $249 will be you a full bike with 12-inch rims, while $299 will buy the larger, 16-inch model. As the technology is contained solely within the front wheel, you can always buy just a 12- or 16-inch Control Hub for retrofitting at $129 and $149, respectively.

Right now, Jyrobike is meant for kids. As you can probably imagine, bigger people, bikes and wheels have a massive impact on the physics at play. A Jyrobike for adults needs much re-engineering, but once the team has delivered everything they promised in its Kickstarter campaign, that's the plan. Some preliminary work on an adult model has already been conducted, and it's expected to be much more sophisticated, with a handlebar-mounted control system and smart features that dynamically adjust the level of stabilization. While it'll obviously be helpful for late learners, the main use case for an adult version would be to give disabled or otherwise impaired cyclists a two-wheeler of their own.

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